Doctors & patients are saying about 'A-Fib.com'...


"A-Fib.com is a great web site for patients, that is unequaled by anything else out there."

Dr. Douglas L. Packer, MD, FHRS, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN

"Jill and I put you and your work in our prayers every night. What you do to help people through this [A-Fib] process is really incredible."

Jill and Steve Douglas, East Troy, WI 

“I really appreciate all the information on your website as it allows me to be a better informed patient and to know what questions to ask my EP. 

Faye Spencer, Boise, ID, April 2017

“I think your site has helped a lot of patients.”

Dr. Hugh G. Calkins, MD  Johns Hopkins,
Baltimore, MD


Doctors & patients are saying about 'Beat Your A-Fib'...


"If I had [your book] 10 years ago, it would have saved me 8 years of hell.”

Roy Salmon, Patient, A-Fib Free,
Adelaide, Australia

"This book is incredibly complete and easy-to-understand for anybody. I certainly recommend it for patients who want to know more about atrial fibrillation than what they will learn from doctors...."

Pierre Jaïs, M.D. Professor of Cardiology, Haut-Lévêque Hospital, Bordeaux, France

"Dear Steve, I saw a patient this morning with your book [in hand] and highlights throughout. She loves it and finds it very useful to help her in dealing with atrial fibrillation."

Dr. Wilber Su,
Cavanaugh Heart Center, 
Phoenix, AZ

"...masterful. You managed to combine an encyclopedic compilation of information with the simplicity of presentation that enhances the delivery of the information to the reader. This is not an easy thing to do, but you have been very, very successful at it."

Ira David Levin, heart patient, 
Rome, Italy

"Within the pages of Beat Your A-Fib, Dr. Steve Ryan, PhD, provides a comprehensive guide for persons seeking to find a cure for their Atrial Fibrillation."

Walter Kerwin, MD, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA


Stroke Risk

Who’s at Higher Risk of a Recurrent A-Fib Stroke?

You’ve had an A-Fib stroke—and you survived—hoorah! Now you wonder…am I more prone to a recurrent stroke? The answer may lie with how often your A-Fib episodes occur (i.e., paroxysmal versus persistent/permanent).

A recent observational research study from Japan posed this question:

In patients with a history of ischemic stroke and atrial fibrillation (A-Fib), is there a difference in the risk of future stroke between those with paroxysmal versus permanent atrial fibrillation?

What’s the Risk of a Recurrent A-Fib Stroke?

The SAMURAI-NVAF study included 1,192 A-Fib patients who had suffered an acute or ischemic stroke (where a clot blocks blood flow to the brain) and followed them for around 1.8 years.

Study patients were hospitalized within 7 days of stroke between April 2011 and March 2014 at 18 Japanese stroke centers. The average age was 77.7 ± 9.9 years, 44% were women, and 63.6% had persistent A-Fib.

Findings: Patients with Persistent A-Fib at Higher Risk of Recurrent Stroke

The researchers found a higher risk of ischemic stroke (or systemic embolism) in those with persistent A-Fib. Persistent patients also had higher rates of both ischemic strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).

Comorbidities means presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions in a patient.

Patients with persistent A-Fib were in general less healthy. They were more likely to have comorbidities: congestive heart failure, liver problems, higher alcohol use, and more disability after the first stroke.

Patients with paroxysmal A-Fib were associated with increased odds of “functional independence” 3 months after their A-Fib stroke (i.e., less likely to be disabled after the stroke).

Why More Stroke Risk When Persistent? The researchers noted that patients with persistent A-Fib have larger Left Atrial Appendage (LAA) size and more severe blood flow problems (lower LAA ejection fraction). … Continue reading this report…->

How Long Does It Take for an A-Fib Clot to Form? The ASSERT Clinical Trial

Background: Of A-Fib stroke patients, 23% die and 44% suffer significant neurologic damage. This compares to only an 8% mortality rate from other causes of stroke.

How Long Does It Take for a Clot to Form? Some doctors say it only takes around 5 minutes for an A-Fib clot to form and cause a stroke that kills you.

This is generally not accepted thinking among Cardiologists and Electrophysiologists (EPs). The ASSERT clinical trial gives us some insights.

How Do Clots Form and Cause Strokes?

Clots aren’t formed instantaneously. It takes a while for blood to pool and form a clot of significant size. If you have a ten-minute attack of A-Fib, for example, it’s unlikely a clot/stroke will develop.

When someone is in A-Fib, blood is not being effectively pumped out of the left atrium. There are spots where blood can pool such in as the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA). This pooled blood can form a clot.

When the left atrium again beats normally, it can push this clot downstream into the left ventricle and into the bloodstream. From there, the clot can travel into the brain causing an ischemic (blocking) stroke.

Patients in permanent A-Fib are at higher risk of clots and stroke. But not in just a few minutes.

(Another risk of A-Fib is a hemorrhagic stroke when a blood vessel bursts, causing bleeding in the brain.)

ASSERT stands for “Asymptomatic Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke Evaluation in Pacemaker Patients and the Atrial Fibrillation Reduction Atrial Pacing Trial”.

The ASSERT Study

The ASSERT clinical trial is a fascinating study with data collected by pacemakers and defibrillators (ICDs). Researchers looked at pacemaker patients and their risks of developing Silent A-Fib and stroke. Their primary question was: Do Pacemakers Prevent A-Fib?

A secondary benefit of the study is the A-Fib patient data collected. In particular, when and how long it takes for A-Fib patients to develop a serious risk of stroke.

The study gives us insight into when and how long it takes for A-Fib patients to develop a serious risk of stroke.

Study Description: The ASSERT study enrolled 2,580 patients, 65 years of age or older, with hypertension and no history of A-Fib, in whom a pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) had recently been installed.

The pacemaker and ICD devices were programmed to detect silent A-Fib (i.e., Subclinical Atrial Tachycardia [SCAF]) when the heart rate reached 190 beats or more per minute lasting more than 6 minutes. The devices were checked at a clinical visit 3 months later. These patients were then followed up for around 2.5 years.

How Long in Silent A-Fib to Significantly Increase Clot/Stroke Risk

In the ASSERT study they found that it took more than 17.72 hours to significantly increase the annual stroke risk. The results of all patients are divided into four quartiles:

Duration Quartile: Time in Silent A-FibAnnual Stroke Risk
≥ 0.86 Hours1.23 %
0.87-3.63 Hours0 %
3.64-17.72 Hours1.18 %
˃ 17.72 Hours4.89 %

Researchers found the annual stroke risks are similar to the stroke risk for healthy people (which is considered to be 1%).

The ASSERT study basically said that it takes around 24 hours of silent A-Fib to develop a serious clot/risk of stroke (on average 3.1%).

Contrary Interpretation: In a later analysis of the same ASSERT study by Van Gelder (2017), patients with lengths of Subclinical Atrial Tachycardia (SCAF) from 6hrs to 24hrs were not significantly different from patients without SCAF.

Similar Trial Results: The TRENDS study, a prospective, observational study, also used implanted devices and found similar results as the ASSERT study.

Do Pacemakers Work to Prevent A-Fib?

The primary question of the ASSERT study was: Do Pacemakers Prevent A-Fib?
Finding: Pacemakers (continuous overdrive pacing) “does not prevent clinical atrial fibrillation.”

Editor’s Comments

Editor's Comments about Cecelia's A-Fib storyShorter Episodes of A-Fib Not Generally Dangerous: Despite studies such and ASSERT and TRENDS, we still need many more studies on how long it takes for a clot/stroke to form. Probably the most useful data to date does come from the ASSERT study where it took around 24 hours of silent A-Fib before clot/stroke risk was significantly increased.
People with shorter episodes of A-Fib or silent A-Fib, such as may occur after a successful catheter ablation, may not need to be on anticoagulants at all. Remember that anticoagulants are high risk drugs that shouldn’t be taken unless there is a real risk of stroke.

The general consensus is that A-Fib clots/strokes take around 24 hours to develop. In a popular article in Bottom Line Health, Dr. Antonio Gotto, cardiovascular disease specialist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, says it takes one day for a clot to form.

Resources for this article

• Healey, J.S. et al. Subclinical Atrial Fibrillation and the Risk of Stroke. The New England Journal of Medicine 2012; 366:120-129. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1105575?viewType=Print&viewClass=Print# DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1105575

• Glotzer, T. V. et al. The Relationship Between Daily Atrial Tachyarrhythmia Burden From Implantable Device Diagnostics and Stroke Risk―The TRENDS Study. Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology, August 4, 2009. 2009;2:474-480. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19843914 doi: 10.1161/CIRCEP.109.849638

• Gotto, Jr., Antonio M. Bottom Line Health, Vol 26, November 2012, p. 4.

• Van Gelder, I.C. et al. Duration of device-detected subclinical atrial fibrillation and occurrence of stroke in ASSERT. European Heart Journal, Volume 38, Issue 17. 1 May 2017, Pages 1339-1344, https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/38/17/1339/3059370. doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehx042

Comparing the Effectiveness and Safety of the Direct Oral Anticoagulants (DOACs) in Patients With A-Fib

Anticoagulants are used with high-risk Atrial Fibrillation patients for the prevention of clots and stroke. FDA approved in 2010, Direct Oral Anticoagulant (DOACs) quickly became attractive alternatives to warfarin, the long‐standing standard of care in anticoagulation.

DOACs include dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto) and apixaban (Eliquis). (Edoxaban [Savaysa] approval came later.)

The use of the term “Direct Oral Anticoagulants” (DOACs) has replaced the term NOACs (Novel Oral Anticoagulants), but it means the same.

When the FDA approved DOACs (Direct Oral Anticoagulants), they relied on 3 different clinical trials. But these trials only compared a DOAC, like Eliquis, to warfarin, not to the other DOACs.

Someone like myself had to dig deep into the research to find evidence of which DOAC actually tested better/safer of the three. (I found that Eliquis tested better and was safer.)

For more about the DOACs, see my articles: Warfarin and the New Anticoagulants, and my report from the AF Symposium: The New Anticoagulants.

DOACs: Finally a Head-to-Head Comparison

Today there is clinical data comparing the DOACs against each other. (And support my original reports.)

A comprehensive review of 36 randomized control trials and observational studies included over 1 ¼ million patients. The DOACs compared were apixaban, dabigatran, rivaroxaban, and edoxaban. The reviewers found:

▪ For major bleeding: Eliquis (apixaban) “tended to be safer” than Xarelto (rivaroxaban) and Pradaxa (dabigatran) based on both direct and indirect comparisons;

▪ For best treatment: Eliquis had a higher probability of being the best treatment of decreased risk of stroke/systemic embolism;

▪ Highest benefit: Eliquis had the highest net clinical benefit and smallest NNTnet (Number Needed to Treat for net effect, i.e., how many people were helped by it, how many were harmed.)

Reviewers Conclusions

The researchers wrote: “Apixaban (Eliquis) appeared to have a favorable effectiveness-safety profile compared with the other DOACs (NOACs) in AF for stroke prevention, based on evidence from both direct and indirect comparisons.” (Translation: Eliquis was found to be more effective and safer than the other DOACs).

Editor’s Comments:

Editor's Comments about Cecelia's A-Fib storyIn the world of scientific statistics and cautious conclusions, this is about as big an endorsement as you will find: Eliquis is superior to the other anticoagulants.
If you’re on a different DOAC, talk to your doctor about switching to Eliquis.
Know the Risks of Taking Anticoagulants (Blood Thinners): Taking almost any prescription medication has trade-offs. In the case of anticoagulants, on one hand you get protection from having an A-Fib stroke (which often leads to death or severe disability), but on the other hand you have an increased risk of bleeding and other problems.
Is an Anticoagulant Necessary for Me? Be certain you should be on an anticoagulant in the first place. Doctors assess an A-Fib patient’s risk of stroke using a rating scale (called CHA2DS2-VASc). Ask your doctor what’s your risk-of-stroke score. If your score is a 1 or 2 (out of 10), ask if you could take a non-prescription approach to a blood thinner.
Remember Anticoagulants Are High Risk Drugs: Be aware that all anticoagulants are considered high risk drugs.

They aren’t like taking vitamins, though they are certainly better than having an A-Fib (ischemic) stroke. To learn more see: Anticoagulants Increase Risk of Hemorrhagic-Type Strokes.

Resource for this article
Zhang, J., et al. Comparative effectiveness and safety of direct acting oral anticoagulants in nonvalvular atrial fibrillation for stroke prevention: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Epidemiol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10654-021-00751-7

More Reports from the 2021 AF Symposium

Each year you’ll find me at the annual AF Symposium. It’s a unique experience. I attend presentations by the most eminent medical researchers, scientists, cardiologists and cardiac electrophysiologists working in A-Fib today.

I’ve published two more summary reports from the 2021 AF Symposium:

Spotlight Session: Javelin VINE Filter to Prevent Stroke

The idea behind the Javelin Medical VINE filter is to catch and stop clots (emboli) trying to travel up into the brain. This is done by inserting the VINE filter into both carotid arteries.(Of all the 5-minute Spotlight Session talks, this is my personal favorite.)

That’s incredibly good news for many A-Fib patients! It’s simple, ingenious, and very effective. Javelin Medical is an Israeli company located in Yokne’am Illit, Israel. Read more.

Live Case: Vein of Marshall Alcohol Ablation2021 AF Symposium Live Streaming Video

The AF Symposium audience watched live streaming video from Houston as Dr. Miguel Valderrabano demonstrated an innovative treatment for A-Fib using Alcohol Ablation of the Vein of Marshall.

In difficult A-Fib cases (persistent, long-term persistent), the Vein of Marshall can contain A-Fib signals (potentials, triggers) which are hard to reach and ablate. Adding ablation of the Vein of Marshall using Ethanol has been proven effective.

Using a 3 mm balloon catheter containing ethanol, he distributed ethanol into the Vein of Marshall starting distally (at the far end of the vein). Read more.

To browse through my other reports, go to 2021 AF Symposium Reports. For reports from other years go to Archive of AF Symposiums Summaries by Year

 

2021 AF Symposium Spotlight Session: Javelin VINE Filter to Prevent Stroke

2021 AF Symposium

Spotlight Session: Javelin VINE Filter to Prevent Stroke

Dr. Stuart Connolly

Dr. Stuart Connolly

Dr. Stuart Connolly of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada gave a 5-minute Spotlight Session talk on the Javelin Medical’s Filter to prevent stroke. Javelin Medical is an Israeli company located in Yokne’am Illit, Israel.

(Of all the 5-minute Spotlight Session talks, this is my personal favorite. Inserting the Javelin Filter can stop most clots from getting to the brain and causing a stroke. That’s incredibly good news for many A-Fib patients! It’s simple, ingenious, and very effective.)

Filtering Out Clots Before They Get to the Brain

The idea behind the Javelin Medical VINE filter is to catch clots (emboli) trying to travel up into the brain. This is done by inserting the VINE filter into both carotid arteries.

Insertion of the Javelin Medical VINE filter

Insertion of the Javelin Medical VINE filter using Ultrasound probe

How it works: The VINE filter is inserted under the skin using ultrasound and usually without need for general anesthesia. It is a super-elastic thread-like Nitinol filter. When it’s inserted, it expands into a helical shape that fills and blocks the carotid artery while still allowing for normal blood flow to the brain.

Any clots are caught in the dense cone-like filter. Over time these trapped clots dissolve due to normal blood flow through the filter. Internal and external anchors lock the filter in place inside the carotid arteries. The VINE is intended to last for a lifetime.

Diagram: Side view Javelin Medical VINE filter

Diagram: Side view Javelin Medical VINE filter

Preliminary Studies: In early studies with sheep, the VINE filter was successfully inserted and deployed with at least a 94% success rate.

Now in Phase II Trials

The VINE is now in preliminary Phase II trials (Capture II). There have been no adverse events. But it will probably take years to get U.S. FDA approval before it’s available.

Editor’s Comments

Even when taking anticoagulants, some A-Fib patients are still at risk of an ischemic stroke. The Javelin VINE Filter could change that. Insertion of the VINE would make it improbable for a clot to make its way through the carotid arteries to the brain.
Having this extra protection would  give A-Fib patients greater peace of mind.
For patients unsuitable for oral anticoagulants, development and approval of the Javelin VINE Filter could be life-changing.
Less Need for Anticoagulants? Can the Javelin VINE Filter eventually replace the need for A-Fib patients to take anticoagulants at all? That probably isn’t likely, at least not in the near future. (Clots may still reach the brain through the vertebral arteries.) But imagine a time when no one would ever have to take anticoagulants!
Public Health Implications Beyond A-Fib: Could the Javelin Filter be used, not just in A-Fib patients, but in anyone at risk of stroke? According to Dr. Connolly, over 800,000 people a year suffer a stroke, 1 out of 3 of those due to A-Fib.
Major Healthcare Break Through? Can we dream of a world where anyone reaching, for example, age 65 would go in for a simple procedure that would forever protect them from having a clot or stroke?

The Javelin VINE Filter may make this possible. It may become a major breakthrough in health care.

Added 4/28/21: Please be advised that the above Editor’s Comments are probably way too optimistic at this time. These are very early days in the research and development of the Javelin filter. We need more data. It hasn’t been proven safe yet, let alone effective.

If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Return to 2021 AF Symposium Reports

Insertable Cardiac Monitor (ICM) to Prevent Recurrent Stroke

The CRYSTAL-AF randomized control trial looked at patients who had a cryptogenic stroke (e.g., a stroke with no identifiable cause). These strokes, 20-40% of cases, account for nearly 175,000 ischemic (blocked artery in the brain) strokes every year in the U.S. (American Stroke Association).

This type of stroke i.e., undetected, can be caused by Silent Atrial Fibrillation.

In this study, patients received an Insertable Cardiac Monitor (ICM), such as the Medtronic Reveal LINQ loop recorder, to detect A-Fib. It’s inserted under the skin and works 24/7 for three years. [I have one. It’s very small and not noticeable.]

By detecting silent A-Fib, ICMs lower the risk of a patient having a second stroke. (23% of stroke survivors have a second stroke.)

Nine-Fold Higher A-Fib Detection Rate

The CRYSTAL-AF study found that using ICMs provided a nine-fold higher A-Fib detection rate compared with the standard treatment (e.g.: intermittent ECG and Holter monitoring).

Medtronic Reveal LINQ insertable heart monitor

Insertable Cardiac Monitor (ICM) from Medtronic 

This finding led many patients who had experienced a stroke of unknown cause (cryptogenic), to start taking anticoagulants. [Truth be told, most people who have a stroke and survive it are put on anticoagulants or Antiplatelets and don’t have to be motivated to take them.] 

A similar study using the Zio monitor, iRhythm Technologies, Inc., found similar results. While wear time in the study with the Zio patch was up to 4 weeks, an ICM lasts for 2-3 years.

ICMs Improve Quality of Life and People Live Longer

In the CRYSTAL-AF study comparing immediate ICM use versus standard treatment of intermittent ECG and Holter monitoring, patients showed a benefit in quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) of 0.198 and an improvement of 0.226 in life years.

The Quality-Adjusted Life Year (QALY) is a measure of the value and benefit of health outcomes.

The ICM approach was projected to lead to 60 fewer lifetime ischemic strokes per 1,000 patients. And ICM was shown to be a cost-effective monitoring strategy.

A-Fib Stoke: Higher Risk if Age 65+

If you have an A-Fib stroke and survive, you have about a 50% higher risk of remaining disabled or handicapped (compared to stoke patients without A Fib).

MRIs often show permanent lesions on the brain from the stroke, even if the patient recovers.

All too many people 65+ have a stroke of unknown cause. Only after they have a stroke and survive it, do they find out they had “silent” A-Fib, and that it probably caused their stroke. But obviously, at that point, it’s too late.

CRYSTAL-AF: Find A-Fib Before a Second Stroke

From a public health standpoint, the CRYSTAL-AF study highlights the need to check if a stroke patient has Atrial Fibrillation and treat in time to prevent a second stroke.

“Atrial fibrillation after cryptogenic stroke [of undetermined source] was most often asymptomatic and paroxysmal and thus unlikely to be detected by strategies based on symptom-driven monitoring or intermittent short-term recordings.” -Sanna, et al. NEJM

Editor’s Comments

Editor's Comments about Cecelia's A-Fib story

Danger of Anticoagulants: The CRYSTAL-AF model assumes that all patients would start taking a NOAC ( anticoagulant) once A-Fib is diagnosed.
But should everyone over 65 with silent A-Fib be on anticoagulants? Remember: anticoagulants are high risk drugs and can cause problems such as hemorrhagic strokes. i.e. bleeding in the brain. (See High Hemorrhagic Risk Factors from NOACs and Anticoagulants Increase Risk of Hemorrhagic-Type Strokes.)
Options for A-Fib Stroke Prevention: Beyond Drug Therapy. A-Fib patients have several options to prevent A-Fib strokes rather than having to take anticoagulants (NOACs).
A-Fib patients have several options to prevent A-Fib strokes rather than having to take anticoagulants (NOACs).
The most obvious one is to become A-Fib free through a catheter ablation. You can’t have an A-Fib stroke if you no longer have A-Fib.
Another option is to close off or cut out the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA) where most A-Fib clots originate (strategies include the Watchman device or AtriClip heart surgery).
A third option is natural blood thinners such as Nattokinase, even though they haven’t been tested as much as NOACs.
ICMs Detect Silent A-Fib and Save Lives: Insertable Cardiac Monitors (ICMs) can tell doctors (and patients) if someone has “silent” A-Fib, i.e. without any apparent symptoms. Silent A-Fib accounts for 20%-40% of strokes.
Could lives be saved and brain damage avoided if everyone reaching age 65 could be given an ICM? 
How many people over age 65 have silent A-Fib? How many lives could be saved and brain damage avoided if everyone reaching age 65 could be given an ICM? ICMs aren’t very expensive, especially when one considers the alternative.

From a public health standpoint, we need a concerted effort to educate doctors and patients on the dangers of silent A-Fib strokes and how to reduce the risk.

The Routine EKG May Not be Enough: Compared to getting a routine EKG at your doctor’s office, ICMs are much more effective at detecting silent A-Fib. Perhaps consumer devices like the Apple Watch can provide this same info.

Resources for this article

• Steinhubl SR, et al. Effect of a Home-Based Wearable Continuous ECG Monitoring Patch on Detection of Undiagnosed Atrial Fibrillation: The mSToPS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018;320(2):146–155. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.8102

• SCREEN-AF study results published in JAMA Cardiology, Cardiac Rhythm News. March 3, 2021. https://cardiacrhythmnews.com/screen-af-study-results-published-in-jama-cardiology/

• Sanna T, et al. Cryptogenic Stroke and Underlying Atrial Fibrillation (CRYSTAL AF). N Engl J Med. 2014; 370(26):2478-2486

• Sinha, A. et al. Cryptogenic Stroke and underlying Atrial Fibrillation (CRYSTAL AF): design and rationale https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20598970/ DOI: 10.1016/j.ahj.2010.03.032

Finding the Right Doctor for You and Your A-Fib

by Steve S. Ryan, Last updated: August 24, 2020

When your family doctor first suspects you have A-Fib, they will probably send you to a cardiologist, a doctor who specializes in the heart.

The cardiologist will want to put you on different medications (called Drug Therapy) over the next six months to a year or more to see if any of these medications will stop or control your A-Fib. 

But current A-Fib medications are not very effective. They work for only about 40% of patients and frequently stop working over time. Many people can’t tolerate the bad side effects.

Know that time is of the essence in treating A-Fib. The longer you have A-Fib, the more your A-Fib may “remodel” your heart (i.e. change it physically and electrically). Read Dr. Oussama Wazni’s advice about drug therapy:

“…Once the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation is made, it’s important not to spend too much time trying to keep a patient in normal rhythm with medical (drug) therapy…before referring them to catheter ablation.”  

– Dr. Oussama Wazni, Co-Director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation at the Cleveland Clinic

 How to Start Your Search

To seek treatments beyond medications, you may need to change doctors.

Since Atrial Fibrillation is an electrical problem, you should see a Cardiac Electrophysiologist (EP)a cardiologist who specializes in the electrical activity of the heart and in the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm disorders.

A-Fib is an electrical problem. Patients should see an Electrophysiologist, an EP, a cardiologist who specializes in the electrical activity of the heart.

The EP’s primary concern is creating a ‘treatment plan’—an organized path to finding your A-Fib cure or best outcome.

To find the right doctor for you, seek recommendations from your General Practitioner (GP) and from other A-Fib patients (see Resources/Bulletin Boards for a list of online discussion groups).

If you know nurses or support staff who work in the cardiology field or in Electrophysiology (EP) labs, they can be great resources.

When you go to A-Fib centers with several EPs, be aware that the office will tend to assign you to the newest, least experienced EP on staff. You should instead do your research first and ask for a particular EP you know is more experienced; for example, someone with the initials FHRS after his name or a Castle Connolly Top Doctor.

Finding a Heart Rhythm Specialist’ Online

To find a local Electrophysiologist yourself, we recommend the Heart Rhythm Society website and their feature called Finding a Heart Rhythm Specialist’. ‘Check’ the box “to limit the results to Fellows of the Heart Rhythm Society (FHRS)”. (EPs with the FHRS designation have been recognized by their peers and are experienced heart rhythm professionals working in the field of electrophysiology and/or pacing).

When you type in a U.S. city and state (or country), the site gives you a list of Electrophysiologists in your area. Check for their list of specialties (not all EPs perform catheter ablations, for example; some focus on pacing/pacemakers, or clinical research, etc.). Look for additional information such as which medical insurance they accept.

 Our A-Fib.com Directory

This A-Fib.com Directory of Doctors and Facilities is an evolving list of the physicians and medical centers who treat patients with atrial fibrillation. Our directory is offered as a service and convenience to A-Fib patients. It’s divided into sections:

U.S. Doctors and Centers by state/city
International listings by country or geographic region.
• Steve’s Lists’ of doctors by specialty.

 Organize Your Research

To find the right doctor to cure your A-Fib, start your research with a notebook and a three-ring binder or a file folder. Learn Why You Need an A-Fib Notebook and 3-Ring Binder.

You need to organize the information you will be collecting: printouts of information from the internet, copies of documents from your local public library or medical center library, notes from phone calls, and answers to “interview” questions during doctor consultations.

Your 3-ring binder, or file folder is also where to collect copies of all your lab tests, notes from doctor visits, doctor correspondence, etc.

Obtain Copies of Your Medical Records, Tests, and Images

If you need to request copies of some medical records, read our article, How to Request Copies of your Medical Records. We give you three ways to request your medical records from your doctors and healthcare providers.

Later, when you are ready to interview new doctors, you will want to send each office a packet with your medical records, test results, and images or X-rays. (As a back-up, bring your three-ring binder with the originals.)

We strongly encourage you to get in the habit of keeping a copy of every test result you get in a designated three-ring binder.

Don’t leave your doctor’s office or hospital without a copy of every test they perform. Or if the test result isn’t immediately available, have them mail it to you.

Back to top

 Researching Doctors and Centers

Don’t rely on a single online source when researching and selecting doctors. Be cautious of all doctor informational listings you find on web sites (yes, including this one).

Doctors may be listed or appear most prominently because they pay for that privilege (but not so at A-Fib.com). Read my article, Don’t be Fooled by Pay-to-Play Online Doctor Referral Sites.

Don’t depend on websites of patient’ ratings of doctors or with patient surveys. They lend themselves to manipulation. Ratings often reflect how well-liked a doctor is, not competency. Consult several sites.

 How to Find the Information

You must do your own homework. To narrow down your list of prospective doctors you will want to scrutinize their credentials. To research each doctor, consult the internet or your local library. One or more of the following online resources may be helpful.

Credential Acronyms: For an explanation of the acronyms following a physician’s name, see Physician Credentials.

The Heart Rhythm Society ‘Find a Specialist searchable directory for a doctor’s specialties, insurance accepted, etc.;
The American Board of Medical Specialists (ABMS) Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists;
The American Board of Internal Medicine; Check a doctor’s certification;
Vitals, an independent healthcare ratings organization; provides physician’s profile, education, awards & recognition, insurance accepted, hospital affiliations, and info on malpractice and sanctions.

 Your Consultation Appointments

Narrow down your list to the top three doctors. Now you are ready to set up a consultation appointment with each doctor. Think of this as an interview. Don’t worry, doctors are also ‘interviewing’ you to determine if they can help you. What to say:

1. You have Atrial Fibrillation, and what kind (paroxysmal, persistent or long-standing persistent);

2. You want to consult with the doctor about your treatment goals, for example, you are seeking to cure your A-Fib, not just manage it with drugs.

Note: some EPs have a “referrals only” policy, which means they won’t talk to you directly. You have to be referred by a cardiologist or a family doctor.

Send Your Medical Records Beforehand

Before your appointment, send each doctor a packet with your A-Fib-related medical records. To learn what to include in your packet of medical records, read Why You Need an A-Fib Notebook and 3-Ring Binder and Your Personal A-Fib Medical Summary.

Download our worksheet

Questions to Ask: Use Our Free Worksheet

To help you scrutinize prospective doctors, we’ve written a set of 10 interview questions to help get you started. Download the FREE PDF and save to your hard drive. Then, print a worksheet for each doctor you interview. 

(To ‘interpret’ the doctors’ answers on the worksheet, see our article, “Choosing the Right Doctor: 10 Questions You’ve Got to Ask And What Their Answers Mean“.)

Prepare and add your own list of questions for each prospective doctor.

During Your “Interview”

Never see a doctor alone...carry pen & paper and take lots of notes; A-Fib.comWhen you arrive at the doctors offices’, make sure they have indeed received your medical records. (As a back-up, bring your own originals from your three-ring A-Fib binder.)

Be sure you have your worksheets and list of other questions, a notepad and pen to take lots of notes.

Audio Recording: In addition, consider using an audio recorder to help you remember things. (Most doctors don’t mind, but always ask permission beforehand.) Many cell phones can be used to make a recording.

Take Along a Trusted Friend: You may want to take along a trusted friend or family member. As needed, your ‘personal advocate’ can question the doctor for you and verify your list of questions have been answered. It’s hard to be on top of your game when you feel ill and anxious. Studies show that patients immediately forget up to 80% of what’s discussed during a doctor visit, and get about half of the remainder wrong.

Afterwards, your patient advocate friend can help you evaluate the doctor’s answers, discuss anything that’s unclear and comment on the doctor’s demeanor.

To intrepret the doctor’s answers, see our article, “Choosing the Right Doctor: 10 Questions You’ve Got to Ask And What Their Answers Mean.

Afterwards: How to Interpret the Answers You Received

Back home, study your notes about each doctor. To ‘interpret’ the doctors’ answers, see our article, “Choosing the Right Doctor: 10 Questions You’ve Got to Ask (And What Their Answers Mean)“.  We’ve included the various responses you might receive, and what each response means to you when searching for the right doctor for you and your treatment goals.

Also Assess the Doctor’s Manner and Personality

Warning - cautionYou’ll also want to assess the doctor’s manner and personality. Is this someone who will work with you? Someone who listens to how A-Fib makes you feel? If the doctor has an accent, are they still clear, concise and communicate well? Does this doctor inspire confidence? Are they encouraging and supportive? Is this someone you feel comfortable with and trust with your health care?

Your relationship with your doctor is important. See our post: ‘Do you Like’ Your Doctor, Do You ‘Connect’?…How it Affects Your Health

Rudeness, bad temper, boorish behavior, etc. from a doctor, no matter how highly recommended, should be a red flag for you. That kind of behavior is not just personally offensive but can be dangerous for your health.

Gender bias: Does he/she respect you? Women in particular should be wary of condescending behavior. ReadIt’s All In Your Mind” Her MD Said. Women in the US often don’t receive the proper diagnosis and treatment of their A-Fib.

To read more about gender bias by doctors, see “The Facts About Women with A-Fib: Mother Nature and Gender Bias—Or—Get Thee to an EP ASAP

Does the poor behavior also extend to how the doctor treats his staff? Patients of doctors “who don’t show respect for their medical staff have much higher rates of adverse effects, than patients of their more congenial colleagues,” according to Gerald B. Hickson, MD of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

If your doctor is condescending or dismisses your concerns, you’re getting poor care. If a doctor is too busy to talk with you and answer your concerns, he’s probably too busy to take care of you properly.

But do give the doctor a break. They may be having a bad day or may have heard your questions too many times before. So say something, speak up! Or contact the patient-relations representative at the medical center. They want to know if a doctor is rude (those patients are more likely to sue!). Once a doctor’s bad behavior is called to his attention, they are likely to do better. And you’ll feel better, too.

 Evaluate the Consultations

After seeing your top three doctors, compare their answers. Did one doctor stand out?  If not, you may want to go back to your research list for number four and five on your list and set up appointments with them too.)

 Directory of Doctors & Medical Centers

The A-Fib.com Directory of Doctors lists US & international physicians and medical centers treating Atrial Fibrillation patients. This evolving list is offered as a service and convenience to A-Fib patients. (Unlike other directories, we accept no fee to be included.) The directory is divided into three categories.

US Doctors and Medical Centers (by state/city)
International: Doctors and Medical Centers (by country or region)

For a list of EPs doing Catheter Ablation procedures, see Steve’s Lists/US EPs with FHRS-designation performing A-Fib ablations by US State/City.

 For surgeons performing Maze/Mini-Maze operations, see Doctors & Facilities/Steve’s Lists Doctors by Specialties and more specifically, US Surgeons performing Maze and Mini-Maze operations.

Resources for this article

• Shannonhouse, R. “Is Your Doctor a Bully?” Bottom Line Health, September 2013, p. 2.

• Fellowship in the Heart Rhythm Society (FHRS) Information. Heart Rhythm Society website. Accessed April 8, 2014. URL:http://www.hrsonline.org/Membership/FHRS-Information

• Makary, Marty. “7 Things Your Hospital Won’t Tell You (That Could Hurt You)” Bottom Line Personal, Volume 34, Number 2, January 15, 2013. p1.

• Hussein, AA, et al. Radiofrequency Ablation of Persistent Atrial Fibrillation: Diagnosis-to-Ablation Time, Markers of Pathways of Atrial Remodeling, and Outcomes. Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology. 2016;9:e003669. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCEP.115.003669.

• McDaniel, Susan H. The Right Way to Ask Your Doctor Questions. Bottom Line Health. Volume 31, Number 4, April 2017, p. 14.

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If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Monday, August 24, 2020  

Video: Atrial Fibrillation-Clot Formation & Stroke Risks

In atrial fibrillation, AFib, or AF, the most common abnormality of the heart’s rhythm, the atria contract in a rapid and disorganized way. As a result, the atria do not effectively pump blood into the ventricles.

Animation showing how A-Fib clots can form and travel to the brain causing an ischemic stroke. (1:39) Uploaded to YouTube on Jan 4, 2012 by Thrombosis Adviser.

YouTube video playback controls: When watching this video, you have several playback options. The following controls are located in the lower right portion of the frame: Turn on closed captions, Settings (speed/quality), Watch on YouTube website, and Enlarge video to full frame. Click on arrow  icon to select.

If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Monday, June 7, 2021

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2020 AF Symposium Abstract: High Hemorrhagic Risk Factors from NOACs

2020 AF Symposium Abstract

High Hemorrhagic Risk Factors from NOACs

by Steve S. Ryan

VIDEO A-Fib Clot Formation & Stroke Risks

NOAC Hemorrhagic Stroke Risk

When I read in this abstract from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, these NOAC findings almost jumped off the page at me! We know that NOACs are high risk meds (though they are certainly better than having an A-Fib stroke). But, add to that, also a high risk of Hemorrhagic risk factors, too?

This is a most important and relevant study for A-Fib patients.

Brain MRI to Detect NOAC Hemorrhagic Stroke Risk

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston used MRI to identify markers of increased intracerebral hemorrhage risk (ICH).

This was a single center study conducted from January 2011 to May 2019. In the study were 282 patients of which 76% had Atrial Fibrillation; Of the 282 patients, 49 were taking NOACs and 233 were taking warfarin. All demographic variables, vascular risk factors, etc. were similar between the two groups.

Study Findings

Analyzing the MRI data of the 282 participants revealed:

• cerebral microbleeds (67%)
• moderate-to-severe white matter hyperintensities (76%)
• cortical superficial siderosis (excess iron in body tissue) (18%)

In particular, of the 49 patients taking NOACs:

• 97% had at least one of these markers
• 60% had two
• 4% had all three

Conclusion

Established MRI markers of increased ICH (intracerebral hemorrhage) were common in the NOAC study group.

High hemorrhagic risk markers were present in an overwhelming 97% of NOAC patients.

Editor’s Comments:

Does taking a NOAC long-term mean you’ll eventually develop a hemorrhagic stroke?
No, the researchers didn’t go that far. This was a limited study as the number of patients who were on NOACs was 49 compared to those on warfarin which was 233.
Red Flag Warning: But this study should raise a red flag for anyone taking NOACs long term. Almost all patients on NOACs (97% in this study) had “evidence of neuroimaging markers of high ICH risk.”
The authors recommended that prescribers (and patients) look at nonpharmacological stroke prevention methods. Eliminating the need for lifelong NOAC anticoagulation “may decrease the incidence of fatal/disabling hemorrhages in A-Fib patients.”

For more on NOACs and stroke, see my article Anticoagulants Increase Risk of Hemorrhagic-Type Strokes.

Resource
Das, A.S et al. Etiology and Imaging Risk Markers of Non-Vitamin K Antagonist Oral Anticoagulant-Related Intracerebral Hemorrhage. AFS2020-17. AF Symposium 2020 brochure, p. 42.

If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Friday, January 22, 2021

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2020 AF Symposium: Device-Detected A-Fib and Stroke Risk

AF Symposium 2020

Device-Detected A-Fib and Stroke Risk: How Long For a Clot to Form?

by Steve S. Ryan

Daniel Singer MD

How long does it take for a clot/stroke to develop? Dr. Daniel Singer from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA addressed this most important question both for A-Fib patients and their doctors in his AF Symposium presentation― Update on Device-Detected AF and Stroke Risk as a Function of AF Burden-Clinical Implications.” 

Implanted Devices Help Study Clot Formation

Dr. Singer discussed how implanted rhythm devices such as pacemakers have aided Electrophysiologists (EPs) collect data on clot formation timelines. (Mobile and non-implanted devices such as the Kardia or Apple Watch may open up these studies to a much broader population.)

AF detection devices: minimally invasive devices to permanent implanted devices; source: AHA

Read: How Clots Form and Cause Strokes
When someone is in A-Fib, blood is not being effectively pumped out of the left atrium. This blood can collect in areas such as the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA) where a pool of blood can form a clot.

When the left atrium starts beating in normal sinus rhythm again, this clot can be pushed downstream into the left ventricle which then pumps this clot into the brain causing an ischemic stroke.

But these clots aren’t formed instantaneously. It takes a while for blood to pool and clot to a significant size. For example, if you have a ten-minute attack of A-Fib, it’s unlikely a clot/stroke will develop.

In cases of permanent A-Fib, normal sinus rhythm doesn’t need to return to move the clot into the ventricle and from there to the brain. This makes patients in permanent A-Fib at high stroke risk.

The ASSERT Study: How Long Does It Take for a Clot to Form?

Dr. Singer discussed the ASSERT study (the Asymptomatic Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke Evaluation in Pacemaker Patients and the Atrial Fibrillation Reduction Atrial Pacing Trial).

The study enrolled 2,580 patients, 65 years of age or older, with hypertension and no history of A-Fib, in whom a pacemaker or defibrillator (ICD) had recently been installed.

Detecting Silent A-Fib: The pacemaker and ICD devices were programmed to detect silent A-Fib (Subclinical Atrial Tachycardia [SCAF]) when the heart rate reached 190 beats or more per minute lasting more than 6 minutes.

Silent A-Fib is called Subclinical Atrial Tachycardia (SCAF). Different from clinical A-Fib, it’s often of short duration and often is asymptomatic.

The devices were checked at a clinical visit 3 months later. These patients were then followed up for around 2.5 years.

ASSERT Study Result: They found that it took more than 17.72 hours to significantly increase annual stroke risk.

The ASSERT study basically said that it takes around 24 hours of silent A-Fib (SCAF) to develop a serious risk of stroke. Patients with silent A-Fib for over 24 hours had around a 3.1% risk of developing a clot/stroke.

In a later analysis of the ASSERT study by Van Gelder (2017), patients with a SCAF of from 6 hrs to 24 hrs were not significantly different from patients without SCAF.

TRENDS Study, A-Fib and Stroke Risk

Using much the same implanted device strategies as in the ASSERT study, the TRENDS study enrolled patients (2,486) with one or more stroke risk factors. They used a 30-day window to measure silent A-Fib (AT/AF burden).

Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke for A-Fib patients.

Findings: Having silent A-Fib for 5.5 hours or more on any 30-day window appeared to double stroke risk (12% of patients in the study had a stroke). (Stroke rates in this study were far below the 4% anticipated annual rate.)

A-Fib Cause or Marker of Stroke Risk? In the TRENDS study (and in the ASSERT study) nearly ¾ of the patients didn’t have A-Fib before the study. This raises the issue of whether A-Fib causes or is just a marker for stroke risk.

Silent A-Fib Hard to Detect

In the ASSERT study, the median time to detect silent A-Fib within the first 3 months was 36 days.

For many patients, just getting an ECG in your doctor’s office or wearing a standard monitor for a few days may not detect if you have silent A-Fib.

This is a major public health issue.

The ASSERT study raises the possibility that patients who suffer ischemic strokes may have silent A-Fib. For those who had an A-Fib-associated stroke, 25% had their A-Fib detected at the time of the stroke. A-Fib-associated strokes account for about 20% of all ischemic strokes.

Unfortunately, from a public health perspective, longer-term monitors like the Medtronic Reveal LINQ (which lasts 3 years) are currently too expensive for screening the general population. Wearable or hand-held ECG monitors may ultimately fill this need.

Pacemakers Don’t Work to Prevent A-Fib

Another finding of the ASSERT study is that pacemakers (continuous overdrive pacing) “does not prevent clinical atrial fibrillation” episodes. (This was the primary question the ASSERT study was constructed to answer.)

Low CHA2DS-VASc and A-Fib Stroke Risk

Dr. Singer pointed out that, even with a high AF burden, there isn’t much stroke risk if the CHA2DS-VASc score is low.

He acknowledged that most Symposium attendees would probably consider that a 1-2-hour episode of silent A-Fib would be a risk factor for stroke.

While others would consider any A-Fib at all as requiring that the patient be put on anticoagulants.

Limitations of the ASSERT Study

The ASSERT study was not designed to study how long it takes for a clot/stroke to form.

The cut-off point at >17.72 hours is somewhat arbitrary. How many patients had strokes from 17.42 hours to 24 hours or 48 hours? What is the precise number of hours in A-Fib where the risk of stroke significantly increases?

ASSERT and TRENDS studied patients with pacemakers and defibrillators. These patients may have other heart problems that the average A-Fib patient doesn’t have.

Editor’s Comments:

Silent A-Fib (Subclinical Atrial Tachycardia [SCAF]) is really dangerous! This is an important public health issue.
I advocate everyone reaching age 65 have long-term monitoring for silent A-Fib. How many strokes could be prevented and lives saved simply by detecting silent A-Fib before it kills or disables people?
Silent A-Fib Is Dangerous―Get Tested at Age 65! If you are 65 or older, get tested for silent A-Fib. In the ASSERT study it took 36 days of monitoring to detect silent A-Fib (SCAF).
However, we don’t currently have rigorous trial evidence that such screening for A-Fib leads to lower stroke risk. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn’t yet recommend wide scale screening for A-Fib.
Shorter Episodes of A-Fib Not Generally Dangerous: Despite studies such as ASSERT and TRENDS, we still need many more studies on how long it takes for a clot/stroke to form. Probably the most useful data to date comes from the ASSERT study stroke risk where it took around 24 hours of silent A-Fib before clot/stroke risk was significantly increased.
Should All A-Fib Patients be on Anticoagulants? Patients with shorter episodes of A-Fib or those who develop A-Fib after a successful catheter ablation, may not need to be on anticoagulants at all.

Remember that anticoagulants are high risk drugs that shouldn’t be taken unless there is a real risk of stroke.

Hemorrhagic stroke: Another risk of A-Fib is a hemorrhagic stroke where blood bleeds/flows into the brain. For more, see my article, Anticoagulants Increase Risk of Hemorrhagic-Type Strokes

References for this report
Healey, J.S. et al. Subclinical Atrial Fibrillation and the Risk of Stroke. The New England Journal of Medicine 2012; 366:120-129. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1105575

Gotto, Jr., Antonio M. Bottom Line Health, Vol 26, November 2012, p. 4.

Van Gelder, I.C. et al. Duration of device-detected subclinical atrial fibrillation and occurrence of stroke in ASSERT. European Heart Journal, Volume 38, Issue 17. 1 May 2017, Pages 1339-1344, https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/38/17/1339/3059370. doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehx042

If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Monday, January 18, 2021

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